Monday, November 26, 2012
New President will face an Uphill Fight against Crime
Enrique Peña Nieto will be sworn in as Mexico's
next president Dec. 1. He will take office at a very interesting point in Mexican history. Mexico is experiencing an economic
upturn that may become even more pronounced if Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party administration is
able to work with its rivals in the National Action Party to enact needed reforms to Mexico's labor, financial and energy laws.
Another arrestor to further expanding
Mexico's economy has been the ongoing cartel violence in Mexico and the dampening effect it has had on outside investment and tourism. Peña
Nieto realizes that Mexico's economy would be doing even better were it not for the chilling effect of the violence. During
his campaign, he pledged to cut Mexico's murder rate in half by the end of his six-year term, to increase the number of
federal police officers and to create a new gendarmerie to use in place of military troops to combat heavily armed criminals
in Mexico's most violent locations.
According to Mexico's El
Universal newspaper, Peña Nieto is also proposing to eliminate the Secretariat of Public Security and consolidate
its functions, including the federal police, under the Secretariat of the Interior. This move is intended to increase coordination
of federal efforts against the cartels and to fight corruption. The federal police are under heavy scrutiny for the involvement
of 19 officers in the Aug. 24 attack against a U.S. diplomatic vehicle in Tres Marias, Morelos state. This incident has long faded from attention in the United States, but the investigation
into the attack remains front-page news in Mexico.
Of course, there are
also commentators who note that Peña Nieto's election is a return to power for the Institutional Revolutionary
Party, which held power in Mexico for some 70 years prior to the election of Vicente Fox of the National Action Party in 2000,
and Felipe Calderon in 2006. This narrative claims that Peña Nieto will quickly return to the Institutional Revolutionary Party policy of negotiating with and accommodating
the cartel organizations, which will solve Mexico's violence problem.
Unfortunately for Mexico, neither law enforcement reforms nor a deal with the cartels will quickly end the violence.
The nature of the Mexican drug cartels and the dynamic between them has changed considerably since Peña Nieto's
party lost the presidency, and the same constraints that have faced his two most recent predecessors, Vicente Fox and Felipe
Calderon, will also dictate his policy options as he attempts to reduce cartel violence.
As George Friedman noted about the U.S. presidential election, candidates frequently aspire to institute particular policies when elected, but once
in office, presidents often find that their policy choices are heavily constrained by outside forces. This same concept holds
true for the president of Mexico.
Fox and Calderon each came into office
with plans to reform Mexico's law enforcement agencies, and yet each of those attempts has failed. Indeed, recent Mexican
history is replete with police agencies dissolved or rolled into another agency due to charges of corruption. The Federal
Investigative Agency, established in 2001 by the Fox administration, is a prime example of a "new" Mexican law enforcement
agency that was established to fight -- and subsequently dissolved because of -- corruption. Peña Nieto's plans
for law enforcement reform will be heavily constrained by this history -- and by Mexican culture. Institutions tend to reflect
the culture that surrounds them, and it is very difficult to establish an institution that is resistant to corruption if the culture surrounding the institution is not supportive of such efforts.
Another important constraint on the Peña Nieto administration is that the flow of
narcotics from South America to the United States has changed over the past two decades. Due to enforcement efforts by the U.S. government, the routes through the Caribbean
have been largely curtailed, shifting the flow increasingly toward Mexico. At the same time, the Colombian and U.S. authorities
have made considerable headway in their campaign to dismantle the largest of the Colombian cartels. This has resulted in the
Mexican cartels becoming increasingly powerful. In fact, Mexican cartels have expanded their control over the global cocaine
trade and now control a good deal of the cocaine trafficking to Europe and Australia.
While the Mexican cartels have always been involved in the smuggling of marijuana to the United States, in recent
years they have also increased their involvement in the manufacturing of methamphetamine and black-tar heroin for U.S. sale while increasing their involvement in the trafficking of prescription
medications like oxycodone. While the cocaine market in the United States has declined slightly in recent years, use of these
other drugs has increased, creating a lucrative profit pool for the Mexican cartels. Unlike cocaine, which the Mexicans have
to buy from South American producers, the Mexican cartels can exact greater profit margins from the narcotics they produce
This change in drug routes and the type of drugs moved means
that the smuggling routes through Mexico have become more lucrative than ever, and the increased value of these corridors
has increased the competition to control them. This inter-cartel competition has translated into significant violence, not
only in cities that directly border on the United States like Juarez or Nuevo Laredo but also in port cities like Veracruz
and Acapulco and regional transportation hubs like Guadalajara and Monterrey.
The nature of the Mexican cartels themselves
has also changed. Gone are the days when a powerful individual such as Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo could preside over a single powerful organization like the Guadalajara cartel that
could control most of the drug trafficking through Mexico and resolve disputes between subordinate trafficking organizations.
The post-Guadalajara cartel climate in Mexico has been one of vicious competition between competing cartels -- competition
that has become increasingly militarized as cartel groups recruited first former police officers and then former special operations
soldiers into their enforcer units. Today's Mexican cartels commonly engage in armed confrontations with rival cartels
and the government using military ordnance, such as automatic weapons, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades.
It is also important to realize that government operations are not the main cause of violence
in Mexico today. Rather, the primary cause of the death and mayhem in Mexico is cartel-on-cartel violence. The Calderon administration
has been criticized for its policy of decapitating the cartel groups, which has in recent years resulted in the fragmenting
of some cartels such as the Beltran Leyva Organization, La Familia Michoacana and the Gulf cartel -- and thus an increase
in intra-cartel violence. But such violence began in the 1990s, long before the decapitation strategy was implemented.
Because the struggle for control of lucrative smuggling routes is the primary driver for the violence, even if the
Peña Nieto administration were to abandon the decapitation strategy and order the Mexican military and federal police
to stand down in their operations against the cartels, the war between the cartels would continue to rage on in cities such
as Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo, Guadalajara and Acapulco. Because of this, Peña Nieto will have little choice but to continue
the use of the military against the cartels for the foreseeable future. The proposed gendarmerie will be able to shoulder
some of that burden once it is created, but it will take years before enough paramilitary police officers are recruited and
trained to replace the approximately 30,000 Mexican soldiers and marines currently dedicated to keeping the peace in Mexico's
most violent areas.
One other way that the cartels have changed is that
many of them are now allied with local street gangs and pay their gang allies with product -- meaning that street-level sales
and drug abuse are increasing in Mexico. Narcotics are no longer commodities that merely pass through Mexico on their way
to plague the Americans. This increase in local distribution has brought with it a second tier of violence as street gangs
fight over retail distribution turf in Mexican cities.
Finally, most of
the cartels have branched out into other criminal endeavors, such as kidnapping, extortion, alien smuggling and cargo theft,
in addition to narcotics smuggling. Los Zetas, for example, make a considerable amount of money stealing oil from Mexico's
state-run oil company and pirating CDs and DVDs. This change has been reflected in law enforcement acronyms. They are no longer
referred to as DTOs -- drug trafficking organizations -- but rather TCOs -- transnational criminal organizations.
With the changes in Mexico since the 1990s in terms of smuggling patterns, the types of drugs
smuggled and the organizations smuggling them, it will be extremely difficult for the incoming administration to ignore their
activities and adopt a hands-off approach. This means that Peña Nieto will not have the latitude to deviate very far
from the policies of the Calderon administration.
"Constraints Facing the Next Mexican President" was first published in "Security Weekly" (Nov. 22, 2012), by Stratfor. "Security Weekly" is one of three free publications offered by Stratfor, a privately owned publisher of geopolitical analysis where analysts use a unique,
intel-based approach to study world affairs.
Scott Stewart, Vice President
of Analysis, oversees Stratfor's security team and its analytic efforts on issues around the globe. He also oversees Stratfor's
extensive coverage of the security environment in Mexico, and closely monitors Mexican drug cartels, their areas of influence
and their drug trafficking routes.
Reprinted with permission.